News and Views
Today I thought I’d give you an update on a few things that have been happening lately.
I’ve made two interim appointments to the executive staff recently. With the retirement of Jeff Walker, Stephanie Jones is serving as interim general counsel and chief legal officer. Stephanie has been with us since 2012 and is a very capable attorney and leader of our legal team.
Also, I’ve asked Sam Smith to serve as interim chief financial officer. Currently our chief accounting officer and comptroller, Sam has been with UMMC since 1995 and knows our finances as well as anybody.
I want to thank Bruce Fairbanks for serving as interim CFO. Bruce joined us for what we all thought would be a six-month stint, but it turned into 18 months. During that time he helped us weather last year’s budget cuts, oversaw our financing plan for the Children’s of Mississippi expansion and improved our revenue cycle performance. Our search for a new CFO produced two excellent finalists but both of them decided to remain in their current jobs, so that search will continue.
You may have noticed some extra hustle and bustle around the School of Dentistry this week. The school is hosting its second Dental Mission Week, providing more than 2,000 underserved Mississippi citizens with free dental care. The week began with Give Kids a Smile Day and Thursday was reserved for U.S. veterans. This event is a heroic undertaking, one that warms my heart, and I salute the School of Dentistry (and other schools who are pitching in) for carrying out this public service.
As we enter the budget season this year, we are in a much stronger position than this time a year ago. We had planned for a break-even budget for FY2019 and are solidly in the black through the first six months of the year. If current trends continue, I am cautiously optimistic we’ll end the year with a modest margin.
Much of my focus these days has been on the Legislature as it approaches the midway point of its three-month session. We are always watchful about our appropriation, which mostly supports our educational programs and has been cut the last three years. We also have put forth a number of separate proposals to be acted upon:
- $24 million in state bond funding for our Children’s of Mississippi expansion. These funds will be an important addition to the private donations and UMMC revenue bonds that are financing the project.
- A pilot program for Children’s of Mississippi to be the Medicaid program’s designated care provider for children with complex medical needs.
- A provision to allow UMMC to exhume the remains of the former state asylum patients buried on campus. Our chief academic officer, Dr. Ralph Didlake, working with a group of archeologists from Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Millsaps, has developed a thoughtful plan to preserve and archive the remains for future study. The plan looks headed toward approval but we will still need funding to fully implement it.
We have been watching a few other measures that seem to pop up every year. An effort to relax the state’s childhood vaccination requirement, which we oppose, has been withdrawn for this year and referred to a study committee. We also oppose a measure that would nullify an Institutions of Higher Learning policy that allows our universities to prohibit guns in non-public areas of campus. We believe the proposed law would put our campus community, law enforcement and first responders at increased risk by allowing weapons in such sensitive areas as classrooms, hospitals, clinics and – on many IHL campuses – athletic and performance venues.
The intermittently heavy rain of the last few days has presented a few challenges. As our staff in the University Physicians Pavilion well know, we have multiple leaks in the roof of the aging facility. We have received emergency approval to start patching and repairing these areas beginning today, and the roof will be completely replaced sometime in mid-to-late March. We apologize for the inconvenience to our staff and patients.
We had also planned for heavy equipment to begin moving dirt in preparation for the new Children’s wing this week, but the rain has delayed us a bit. Later this month, as site development continues, we will be sharing our planned revisions to shuttle routes and campus traffic flow.
At this time of the year, there’s not much that a little sunshine won’t cure, lighting our path to A Healthier Mississippi.